Birth Story


It’s a “KOJI whiskey”



Sugawara Suikyou was originally created as “KOJI whiskey”, which is impossible under the Japanese Liquor Tax Law. "Impossible" is because, unlike in the United States and other countries, Japan's Liquor Tax Act stipulates that whiskey must be saccharified with malt. Distilled spirits saccharified with koji is prohibited to call themselves whiskey.
However, the history of Japanese whiskey started with the story of koji.




In 1880 (Meiji 13), Dr. Jokichi Takamine, who is famous worldwide for his discovery of adrenaline, met Scotch whiskey while studying in England.
After the encounter, Dr. Takamine obtained a patent for a method of producing alcohol in Scotland, and moved to the United States, where he attempted to produce whiskey saccharified with koji.
Unfortunately, this new production method was not welcomed, and the whiskey that was saccharified with koji was not realized due to various obstacles such as arson of a factory.
“Sugawara Suikyou” originates from the sympathies with Dr. Takamine's challenge to produce whiskey that is saccharified with koji.


Barrel ripening can revive the Shochu industry



The reason why Sakasyo-Sugawara wanted to realize "koji whiskey" was our anxiety of the downturn of the shochu industry. With Japan's aging population and declining birthrate, the domestic market for alcohol is also shrinking. The liquor industry has no future but to enter the world market.
Because of declining birthrate, Japanese domestic market of alcohol has been shrinking. So, the Shochu liquor industry has no future but to enter the world market. In contrast, Japanese sake industry has successfully gained worldwide reputation in recent years for the efforts of small and medium sake breweries. Also, Japanese whiskey has been attracting worldwide attention recently.



And, as is clear from Dr. Takamine's challenge, there is no big difference between single malt whiskey and authentic barley shochu other than whether it was brewed with malt or with koji. Both are spirits, although there are detailed regulations in the Liquor Tax Act in Japan.
Blessed with many unique small and medium sized breweries, Shochu combines the advantages of Japanese sake and whiskey.
We have come to think that if shochu is matured in a barrel, it can become the great spirits that the world can be proud of.
We want to accomplish with "koji whiskey" what Dr. Takamine couldn't accomplish.


The quality of whiskey depends on the barrel



There used to be a time when I, the owner of Sakasyo-Sugawara, Haji Masaki visited the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery several times to buy whiskey.
During tasting at that time, I found a sherry cask Yamazaki that was completely different from other Yamazaki whiskies. It tasted so delicious that I could not describe it, so I bought it immediately with the barrel.
This whiskey I bought became very popular. There was an episode when Mr. Frank Müller visited Japan, he ordered a few glasses of this Yamazaki whiskey. In addition, an engineer from Suntory commented that it tasted like one out of every 1 million barrels.



I was selling this Yamazaki for 18,000 yen per 700 mL bottle, but later I found out that it was priced over 500,000 yen at an auction.
whiskey's quality and value depend more on the barrel and maturing than on those of raw whiskey.
But it's not enough to let them sleep in a barrel. It is necessary to use carefully selected barrels, charring barrels with appropriate techniques, age them in the best environment, and nurture them with skilled techniques and with full of love.
This Yamazaki barrel taught me that I had to look for great barrels and great barrel meister.


Dr. Minabe’s praise and unexpected words


なんとかこれを「KOJI WHISKY」(酒商菅原商標登録)として世に出したいと思い、ウイスキー界のレジェンドである三鍋博士を訪ねました。

From that time, I tried various kinds of shochu stored in barrels, but in the end, I didn't encounter shochu aged in barrels that seemed to be as good as whiskey.
However, the only one I have found that has a unique potential is the 14-year aging of carrot shochu by Kenjo Co., Ltd.
I came up with the idea of blending this with authentic barley shochu, also aged for more than 14 years, and through various trials and errors, in 2018 I completed the Sugawara Suikyou aged 14-years.
I wanted to make this a "koji whisky", so I visited Suntory to meet Dr. Minabe, the great grand whiskey meister.



Dr. Minabe, who was at first very negative about the existence of whiskey brewed with koji. But he was very amazed when he took a sip of "Sugawara Suikyou aged 14-years," and he praised me very much.
But then, Dr. Minabe said, "Let's stop calling this “koji whisky” from now on."
And he said, "This is the only one in the world. Instead of trying to make whiskey-like spirits, you should make it a completely different kind of distilled liquor."
With those words of him, the Rouge series with "Sugawara Suikyou aged 14-years" was started in order to succeed tequila, rum, vodka, and gin as the world's 5th famous Spirits HAZI.


Two Sugawara Suikyou Series



We welcomed Dr. Minabe to participate in the development of the Rouge series. Dr’s new plan was to add vanilla, cinnamon, caramel and woody flavours obtained by roasting barrels to the unique carrots' special flavors: clean, esthetic, fresh green, grated apple, corn, subtle sweetness and long lingering.
The plan was successfully achieved, and HAZI, a new type of distilled liquor with an unprecedented taste, was completed.
The possibility of carrots made by the barrels is infinite. There are many combinations we want to try. One of the charms of the Rouge series is that new world's first flavors have been created one after another.



Noir series, another Sugawara Suikyou, is a kind of distilled liquor called rice whiskey in America.
When the owner of "Umazake Kamunabi" in Osaka, a pioneer in acquiring Michelin star as an Japanese style gastropub, tasted the Noir series, he commented on the individuality of the Noir series of the three types of barrels as follows.
"It's more of a forest fragrance than a barrel fragrance, a mizunara barrel Noir conveys the essence of Japan. A sherry cask Noir is full of the real pleasure of barrel ripening that changes in various ways from the time it is put in the mouth to the last lingering in the mouth such as raisins, caramel, woody and fragrant roasted barley.
The vivid smoky aroma of this smoky Scotch barrel Noir may not disappoint the expectations of single malt whiskey lovers. "
As for the differences between the ages, he commented, "Noir aged 8-years bring the soft, deep flavor of fine rice shochu with a Japanese touch. All three also show the rich character of the barrel.
The first thing that strikes you about Noir aged 25-years are their smooth texture. The character of each barrel harmonizes perfectly with the rice shochu, and the mellow taste and long aftertaste, which is not overwhelming in any way, has a dignity worthy of quietly facing the spirit.


The participation of Ichiro Nakazawa made it possible for continual evolution



In 2021, we welcomed Nakazawa Ichiro to our company as a new Head of Production for Sugawara Suikyou. He is a former colleague of Dr. Minabe, technical advisor for product development of Sugawara Suikyou. And he is a famous blender who has been impressed by whiskey lovers around the world.
Under the supervision of him, the production process chain of Sugawara Suikyou was thoroughly reviewed from the beginning, and a production system was established to ensure that the delicious taste of Sugawara Suikyou will continue to evolve in a stable manner.


Please enjoy and look forward to the ever-evolving Sugawara Suikyou series.

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